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How to Be An Experiencer, Not a Visitor While Traveling

Golden temple in southeast asia.



While they may seem like the same thing - being a visitor and being an experiencer - we have actually come to realize that they are two relatively separate forms of travelers.

Now we are not saying as a traveler you solely have to be one or the other, often times there is some blurring of the lines, but what we are trying to explain is that being an experiencer means you step past the surface and instead focus on becoming more connected to the place and culture you are exploring.

It is the idea of going deeper, putting in that extra effort and time to really try to get to know the place you are visiting. While you can do this in a number of ways, we often believe that there are four main ways to know whether you are an experiencer or just a visitor.

Read about the differences below.

1 | Visitors Only Go to the Popular Sites, Experiencers Go to the Hidden Gems

Visitors will often only go to the “top” five sites — also known as the tourist hotspots. These are great, don’t get us wrong, but they don’t usually encompass the “true” culture. More often than not, they are instead so full of tourist traps and memorabilia that it can be hard to look past the commercialization and see the beauty and wonder of the place itself.

While we do agree that a lot of the touristy spots are must-sees — for example, Machu Picchu, the Coliseum, and the Eiffel Tower - it is still challenging to say that those places actually encompass a country’s real culture.

As two people who have visited Machu Picchu, we can personally say that while the ruins are absolutely breathtaking, Peru actually has so much more to offer. Including, more than a hundred ruins that are just as inspiring, but not nearly as famous. And those ruins often capture Peruvian culture and history more than Machu Picchu.

Why? Because they haven’t been commercialized and changed to be tourist-friendly.

Instead we would suggest trying to put the time in to find places that are equally as amazing as the tourist-hot spots but that have still stayed a bit more under-the-radar. We know this can be tough and time consuming, but one way we have found this to be possible is by simply asking the locals where they would suggest checking out.

So, in conclusion, try to branch out from the main tourist circuit and instead put a bit of energy into seeking those hidden gems. You will likely be amazed at what you find. We know we always have.

Cloudy Machu Picchu in Peru.

2 | Visitors Go to Touristy Restaurants, Experiencers Eat With the Locals

You see them everywhere when traveling, especially in the popular areas: restaurants that claim to be authentic, but really only cater to the palettes of tourists. The food, while good, is never the same as if you went to a real restaurant that the locals flock to.

In our experience traveling, one of the main rules is to ALWAYS follow the locals and only eat at places that are busy. If you want to get a real, authentic experience, leave behind your preconceived notions of what constitutes “good” food and instead follow in the footsteps of the people who live there full-time.

That means that if they always go to one restaurant that you didn’t give a second thought to, follow and sit down next to them. Better yet, once there, ask what they like to eat or what they recommend. Or, if this is challenging due to a language barrier, then simply look around and see what everyone else is eating and then just point to it when the waiter comes.

While there will definitely be instances where the food is just not what you wanted, isn’t it better that you at least tried it instead of safely eating away in a restaurant that is only “quasi-authentic?” One thing experiencers know is that the biggest reward, and memories, come from stepping outside your comfort zone. So don’t be afraid to try something new - and to talk to the locals while you're at it.

Local restaurant in a small town in Colombia.

3 | Visitors Are Obvious, Experiencers Are Not

We have all been there: sitting in a café in some far off land, or even just hanging out in your hometown. Either way, you can spot a tourist from a mile away.

There is just something about their appearance and mannerisms that show they aren’t locals. Maybe it’s the large map they keep pulling out, or how they always seem to be reading and rereading their guidebook. Whatever it is, they just don’t blend in. But experiencers often do. Why? Because they quickly figure out the rhythm of their surroundings and follow suit.

That means walking around like you know exactly where you are going - even if you don’t - and following the standard cultural norms when it comes to dressing and mannerisms. If the locals often head to the park in the morning, then go to the park and sit and people watch and feed the birds. If the locals eat late, then don’t go to a restaurant until 10 o’clock. Getting in touch with the local culture will help you feel much more a part of it. Plus, this is a great way to learn about the culture itself and interact with the local people. Which, isn't that one of the biggest perks of traveling anyway?

Two tourists with suitcases by the coast.

4 | Visitors Speak in Their Native Tongue, While Experiencers Try to Learn the Local Language

Learning a language is hard, really hard, but it can go a long way when interacting with the locals. We have found that if you appear like you are at least trying to converse in the culture's native tongue, even if you are absolutely failing at it, the local people will really appreciate it and likely be much more friendly and helpful.

In our experience, one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a visitor and an experiencer is that visitors usually don’t even attempt to learn a couple of major phrases of the local language (not even hello or thank you). Why? Because they know they won’t be there long - so what's the point?

But people who want to experience the culture, and go below the surface level, understand that language is the gateway to learning and seeing so much more than what you find in guidebooks or online. Plus, it isn’t that hard to learn a couple of those key phrases.

GOOD TO KNOW: while experiencers often shy away from guidebooks, many will pick up a handy travel size translation book and work at learning the basics during their travels.

Traveling to a new place is an exciting opportunity, no matter where you go. But how you approach your time there can make a world of a difference.

While we know plenty of people who are perfectly happy going to a new country and simply doing the touristy things. For us, we understand that you gain so much more of an appreciation of the place and the culture (and often have a better trip overall) when you work to become an experiencer and not just stay a visitor.

If you have any questions or comments about this article (we know it is a bit controversial), please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to us directly.

Happy adventuring!



Pinterest pin on how to be an experiencer





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